When I first became digital brand strategy lead for a national Quick Service Restaurant brand, I arrived on the scene to find a social media calendar chock full of transactional posts and nothing else. Think meal deals and freebie add-ons. Sure there were a few well-trod hashtags and meme-y jokes aimed to compete with the rest of the QSR universe, but there was nothing that made the brand distinctive. It could have been any chain.

Transactional posts which are aimed solely to drive higher or more receipts, are indisputably crucial to a Direct to Consumer brand - which QSR is. After all, the main aim is to get people in the door. You want to make that as easy as possible. But is "BOGO", for example, enough to create a lasting and loyal connection? What will you do when someone cheaper, more convenient, or more interesting comes along and builds a house next to yours? You can't ignore brand forever or you'll always be chasing the sale.

Trends, meme culture, and  influencers are an undoubtedly vital part of modern marketing. Speaking the language of the moment is valuable currency. But just like the kid at the party who rehearsed his cultural references to seem cool, a brand has to be itself when it engages with customers or it will stink of inauthenticity and eventually fall out of favor. 

If you draw a triangle between the three factors that make a strong dtc brand, in one corner, you'll have the cultural moment, in this case the meme universe of fast food mainly aimed at young men. In the next corner, you'll have revenue goals that you'll hit with sales-driving CTAs, and then there's the third corner. 

The third corner of the DTC brand triangle is the intersection of the deeper cultural and social significance of your brand and the product. This is where you want to explore meaning and drives in the lives of your desired audience.

Here are a few things to examine:

  • What are the cultural histories behind a food occasion, dressing ritual, or home decor products, etc. you are offering? Where are we now and how are you building on that history or adding a new element that reflects current tastes and social mores?

  • What authentic truth about the occasion surrounding brand participation intersects with the founder story, the mission, the company culture, or the process of creation?

Increasingly, people buy with their conscience, their values, and a new level of self acceptance. Look at deeper dynamics of identity politics and culture to create an intimate, lasting, and human connection.

A popular and crucial social strategy approach has been to inform, entertain, or educate in each post. Great advice. Unfortunately it's easy to do that without any real depth and just fizzle into noise. Find the emotional clicks that are fundamental to your brand purpose, product, and the culture of your audience. The fundamental truth that will not just make your audience share your hilarity or poignancy but be able to connect it to your business and why they should buy from you. 

Before posting another copycat Tik Tok, approach your value proposition and elements of your business from a place of curiosity and humanity. That's where you will start to build a real and lasting narrative that you can slowly unspool in social and through all marketing touch points. You can create a content plan that evolves over time which will build and build on your brand strategy.

With the particular brand I'm referencing, there was already organic community and cultural significance in the brand but it was under-utilized. There are several examples but the one I'll use here is Sunday Supper, an occasion where family sits around the table once a week, phones away, and multiple generations or 'friend families' all together. More than a meal deal, Sunday Supper has been a cultural anchor for community throughout history. I was able to find dozens of strong stories about Sunday Supper that we could own and that strengthened our authenticity. Nothing manufactured or tacked on. The lesson is, you can be authentic - and sell a family meal.

The 80/20 rule says that 80% of your content should be brand content, that mix of cultural and brand depth, punctuated by the other 20%: sale 'moments' yet brand and performance mix is more art than science. If you focus on building interactions that play on culture, brand significance, and sales in a natural, organic way, where the cadence is interrelated and has a rhythmic flow, you'll end up with a narrative rather than quick disjointed one-offs.

In the end, it's truly worth it to put in the work and find out what the best stories are. Don't be afraid to scratch below the surface and take that first step. Be bold in your brand belief and let curiosity guide you to new intersections between your brand value and the world we live in!